An Indignant Thom Hartmann Denounces Those Capitalist Shills ... at NPR

Dog bites man -- conservative criticizes National Public Radio for liberal bias. Man bites dog -- liberal criticizes National Public Radio for insufficient liberalism.

The liberal in question is radio host Thom Hartmann, who's likely to become a more prominent voice in liberal radio thanks to Ed Schultz's abrupt announcement this week that he's ending his decade-long radio show for a shorter webcast. (Video after the jump)

In addition to hosting a three-hour radio show weekdays, Hartmann appears in a daily TV show, "The Big Picture," which airs on Free Speech TV and the RT (Russia Today) network.

Earlier this week in one of his "Big Picture" broadcasts, Hartmann went after NPR for what he considers its shabby coverage of the proposed $49 billion merger between AT&T and DirecTV --

HARTMANN: NPR and everybody else, please stop lying to us and please stop reading corporate press releases to us and calling them news. This morning NPR took a stab at covering the proposed AT&T-DirecTV merger that was officially announced over the weekend. Take a listen --

NPR REPORTER: If you've streamed a movie or a TV show recently, you are part of the problem facing cable and satellite providers. These companies are facing more and more competition from Internet streaming and to survive, some are consolidating. Yesterday AT&T announced that it is buying the satellite TV provider DirecTV. The deal, which still needs to be approved by government regulators, would be worth nearly $50 billion.

HARTMANN: NPR is completely wrong. This has nothing to do with AT&T or DirecTV (raises two fingers on each hand in annoying air quotes gesture) surviving. They're both big profitable companies and if the industry is changing, they can change to adapt to it, which by the way, they're already doing! What this merger and so many others is really about is monopoly -- just like the Comcast-Time Warner proposed merger and Sprint's plans to try and take over T-Mobile. This AT&T-DirecTV move is all about monopoly. These mergers and acquisitions are about corporations getting so large that they dominate an industry and limit your choices to a very, very small number of companies, which then all of a sudden just by coincidence start raising prices and increasing their profits. This is about screwing the consumer. And it's all because in 1982, Ronald Reagan stopped enforcing the Sherman Antitrust Act. It's amazing how much things have changed since then.

I hate to admit this, but Hartmann has a point. After all, these huge mergers are always immensely successful and result in monopolies that never end. Time Warner merging with AOL back in 2000 comes to mind -- you remember, the one that resulted in one of the biggest business fiascoes in history?

OK, my bad, should have cited a better example. Still, Hartmann gets it right that these "big profitable companies," once achieving bigness and profitability, always remain that way. That's why if you want to buy an appliance, you're probably limited to shopping at Sears. Sorry, another bad example. Or how if you're in the market for a new computer, Tandy remains the industry leader. And when it comes to copiers, Xerox is the way to go, what with the company getting really big and profitable a long time ago, and thus it will always be.

"Free-market opponents and antitrust supporters fail to appreciate an essential principle of Real World economics: so-called monopolies are almost always temporary," wrote Steve Forbes in "How Capitalism Will Save Us: Why Free People and Free Markets are the Best Answer in Today's Economy," published in 2009. "Sooner or later, smaller, more nimble competitors enter the market and supplant established players. This competition can come not just from within an industry, but from competitors with previously unforeseen new technologies." (emphasis in both cases in the original).

Of the top 500 companies in the Forbes 500 list in 1983, only 202 were still in the list 20 years later, Forbes pointed out.

Hartmann must not be tethered tight to reality if he actually believes our choices as consumers of media have diminished since the Reagan era. Not incidentally, I have a choice of listening to Hartmann from my television, laptop, iPad or smart phone -- or listen instead to any of thousands of competitors for my attention in the media marketplace. We've gone from a world in which you could pick from only three networks on television (OK, three and a half if you count PBS) to one in which channels may soon be numbered in the thousands. Hartmann thinks the opposite has taken place.

As for his criticism of NPR, Hartmann elaborated --

If the media had any interest in telling the true story, they'd have said, 'AT&T has tried to further cement their control over the choices you have for the telephone and Internet service and grab a part of your choices about TV by grabbing DirecTV. If they're successful, expect your prices to go up while your choices go down, just as has happened pretty much every other time an industry has succumbed to this sort of monopolistic behavior,' end of quote -- but they're not going to tell you that because they're nearly monopolies themselves. NPR, for example, has a lock on and a government subsidy for radio stations all across the country.

Here we agree, Thom -- this particular monopoly should have died decades ago, except it's a government mandate, the closest we get to immortality. Just as it took Nixon to go to China, it will require an influential left-winger to end government funding of NPR.

It was all of a week ago that Hartmann said Rush Limbaugh is correct in stating that liberal radio competes mainly with NPR, not conservative radio hosts.

Jack Coleman
Liberated ex-liberal from the People's Republic of Massachusetts